Monday, January 31, 2011

Ace in the Hole

With a big couple of weeks on the cards, the Defensive Specialist thought he’d kick things off by dipping into the Deep in the Hole mailbag. The Defensive Specialist has already mentioned that pitching is often the key in playoff baseball and for an offensively challenged ballclub like the Blue Sox it’s going to be critical – especially as they square up against one of the scarier clubs in the competition, the big hitting Adelaide Bite. Today’s question centres on one of the Blue Sox real strengths, having an Ace (or Aces) leading the staff.

Defensive Specialist,

I’ve been reading your website for a while now and you’ve referred to guys like Welch and Oxpsring as aces on a number of occasions. As a father of a baseball mad son, I was interested to know what makes an ace and what my boy can do to build arm strength and develop other pitchers like sliders and curveballs.




Thanks for writing in. It’s timely that you raise the topic of aces, as those in Sydney will have the chance to see a couple this weekend. While the Defensive Specialist is generally a font of knowledge, it seemed appropriate to tap into your old pal’s extensive network to provide a more “pitcher centric” take on the above question. The Defensive Specialist dialled up the US Correspondent for his thoughts:

Solid question BT, let me break it into 2 parts:

1) What makes an ace?

Felix Hernandez
Cliff Lee
Personally I don't think an Ace pitcher can be "made". Traditionally a team’s Ace is the best guy on the staff, notice I didn't necessarily say the guy with the best "stuff". I honestly believe that being a true Ace is just as much a mental mindset as it is having a set of physical skills. As coaches we identify guys who we believe fit the mould of staff Ace and try to make them into that pitcher. But an Ace in my opinion truly separates himself with his leadership skills and his ability to be mentally tougher than his opponent and competition. With that being said an "Ace" does need to possess a certain set of skills that will separate him from the rest of the pack - whether that is unbelievable command like Cliff Lee, or flat out dominating stuff like a Felix Hernandez (or a combination of both like Roy Halladay!). On the flip side there are plenty of big leaguers who have potentially better stuff but can't reach the elite status of being relied on as staff Ace. AJ Burnett doesn't have many peers in terms of how hard he throws and the movement he gets on his offfspeed stuff, but what separates him from being a 10-15 pitcher on one of the best teams in baseball compared with becoming the dominant ace that everyone would expect? You’d have to say what’s between his ears.

The same concept translates over to the amateur ranks. We've all played with, coached, or watched a game where you can immediately recognize the guy you want to have the ball when a game must be won. Staff Ace's possess the aura that immediately lets their teammates and opponents know that they are confident in their skills and are going to give their team the best chance to win that day. Whether that mentality is something that is taught or something that individual is born with is the big question.

As a coach I think the important thing is being able to put individuals who you identify as potential "Aces" in competitive/challenging situations that will show how they separate themselves from the rest of the pack both from a mental and competitive standpoint. These challenges/competitions can be conducted in a baseball setting but it’s also good to see how these individuals attitude and competitive nature translates to a non-baseball situation (i.e. in the weight room, during conditioning and even in school and jobs). Everyone has heard about Roy Halladay’s work ethic and desire to keep getting better – that’s part of his makeup. As a coach I think it’s our responsibility to identify the “Aces” out there and put them in positions where they can demonstrate the qualities that we want in the role. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can just appoint a kid as an Ace and then teach them how to be one.

2) How do you build arm strength and refine secondary stuff (curveballs, sliders etc)?

I think these two topics are directly correlated with each other. Building arm strength is one of the biggest components to having a successful pitching staff. Arm strength obviously has many benefits with the two primary reasons being 1) it allows pitchers to throw harder and for a longer duration of time and 2) it helps prevent injury. With that in mind, refining secondary pitches is all about getting repetitions and practicing that skill. In order to do that, your arm needs to be in the type of shape that allows you to actually use it on a regular basis.

You get better at baseball by playing it as often as possible - big revelation there (that’s why the big leagues play 162 games). This can be a double-edged sword for pitchers, as pitchers can only tax their arm so much. Unlike hitters and fielders who can take hundreds of repetitions a day (ground balls/batting practice) and then come back out and do it again the next day, pitchers can realistically only get on the mound 2-3 times a week for an extended amount of time, especially when you’re in-season and you’re preparing to be at your best every 5-7 days.

This is where the role of building arm strength is the core of a pitchers preparation. I certainly believe playing long toss is the number one component to building arm strength and maximizing the abilities your body has (whether that’s 85mph or 95mph). Many people have throwing programs that spell out how far and how many times you should throw the ball per session, but bottom line is throwing the ball as hard and far as you can with proper mechanics will help build the muscles that you actually use in throwing a baseball. People argue the specifics of long toss (is it okay to put a rainbow on it or do I need to keep it on a line?) and I honestly can't say which one is better. What I do know is that throwing the ball to max capacity will help condition your arm to do that in a game setting. As a starting pitcher you are training to throw the ball at max capacity presumably 90-120 times per game.

Some people will argue that weight training builds more arm strength but throwing a baseball requires specific muscles that are very individual to that specific skill. I think weight training supplements a good throwing program but if weight training is the sole indicator to throwing hard and building arm strength then why isn't Major League Baseball littered with 300 pound lifting champions? I am a huge believer in doing shoulder exercise routines (tubes, light weights, etc.), building a strong core through different exercises and being as functionally strong as possible, but would encourage young pitchers looking to make a jump to play as much long toss as possible in their training.

As far as refining secondary pitches I think the more time you can spend doing them the better, which is why arm strength is directly correlated to the topic. Your arm needs to be in shape so you can use it, and not be on the shelf for 3 days after you throw. I believe getting on the mound as much as possible is a big contributor to enhancing your pitches whether that’s a change, slider, split, curve, etc. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to throw a full 60 feet every time - having the catcher in front of the plate is beneficial too, as it really makes you get out front with your release point. If getting on the mound is not an option then flat ground (pitching just on a flat surface, 50-60 ft apart) is another way to work on these pitches. One of the biggest factors in making your offspeed pitches effective is ensuring it looks like your fastball (from a release point, arm slot, arm speed perspective) so practicing throwing your off speed with that in mind will help blend all those components together. Hopefully the end result will be that your mechanics look identical with the only difference being your grip – that creates real deception for hitters who cant pick up early what’s on the way to the plate..

Pitching like any other skill is something you get more confidence in the more you do it. Malcolm Gladwell theorises in his book "Outliers" that you can’t master a skill until you perform it for 10,000 hours. So being in peak physical condition (arm strength and health) will at least give you the opportunity to master your craft.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Shedding Light on the Subject

A spousal illness on Friday meant the Defensive Specialist had to switch into his role as Superhusband / father and was unable to attend Game 2 of the Blue Sox / Heat series. Fortunately it played out just as the Defensive Specialist predicted – a dominant sweep by the Heat on the road……….

Yeah ok, so perhaps the Defensive Specialist screwed the pooch on that call but it’s not like the predictions offered here at Deep in the Hole have been close to accurate all year anyway. One call your old pal did get right was the Adelaide Bite / Melbourne Aces result which was kind of a no brainer anyway.

The Heat roll straight into the Grand Final to be held at their home ballpark (which may or may not be a good thing when you consider their .500 record at the Barbagallo Ballpark) with their offense humming and some resilient efforts on the mound from the pitching staff. The Sydney team have to have a case of the tight sphincter now, knowing that they’ll play host to the hard hitting Bite who have won 7 of their last 8 games. The Blue Sox will be buoyed by the fact they pulled the Bite’s pants down the last time they played in Sydney, sweeping the series 4-0. Two big problems facing the Sydney team are:

1) Chris Oxpsring is now a reliever, which means that team is now down an ace


2) The Blue Sox offense is even more exposed now that playoffs are here and the pitching is above average. On the upside, Mitch Dening seems to have found his stroke in the 2 games against Perth clearly leading the way offensively in a losing effort.

Adelaide welcomed Quincy Latimore and James McOwen back into the fold after both took some time off due to injury which makes the Bite line up all the more potent. Mark Brackman took the ball in game 1 of the semi finals and was solid and although Brandon Maurer didn’t appear to have his best stuff in game 2, he did manage to punch out 8 in 6 innings of work. The Defensive Specialist will have more detailed thoughts on the next round of playoffs later in the week.

As many ABL fans know, Foxtel will be showing the grand finals series, which is a coup for the sport and an exciting development. Many will be scratching their head at the 4.30pm start times for the games and wonder why on earth the schedule has been changed. Well let your old pal tell you why. Apparently the quality of lighting in the ballparks is not conducive to the broadcast being in high definition, hence the need to play the games in daylight to avoid this technical issue. So that means on the east coast we’ll be watching games at 7.30 pm due to Western Australia’s backwater mentality of not having day light savings. No word yet on who’ll be commentating but lets just hope and pray that its someone with half an idea.

The Defensive Specialist isn’t really too worried about the broadcast anyway since he fully expects MLB / ABL to bankroll Australia’s preeminent baseball blogger’s trip to the Grand Final series anyway…….

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Matte Finish

Upon arriving at the Blacktown Olympic Baseball facility the Defensive Specialist was faced with 2 immutable facts:

1) It was hotter and steamier than 2 rats making love in a wool sock


2) Sydney ace Chris Oxspring was not in the Blue Sox rotation.

The heat and humidity was obviously going to affect both ball clubs but the prime time Sydney pitcher not being available to take the ball at the start of the game could put a severe crimp in the Blue Sox’s title chances. Logic suggests that with his first spring training approaching in a couple of weeks, Oxspring was looking to shift down his work load so that he’ll be reasonably fresh and ready to impress when he gets to the US (and yes that sentence had unintentional rhyming awesomeness).

With a lacklustre crowd in attendance (the vast majority of third base line seating was empty), Sydney number 2 David Welch took the ball with the goal of shutting down the Heat and propelling his team directly into the grand final. Southpaw Daniel Schmidt got the nod from skipper Brooke Knight for the Heat who were looking to steal another series on the road and set themselves up for a grand final at their home yard. Both pitchers settled in after giving up early doubles in the first inning (Luke Hughes with a ground rule double to right centre and Mitch Dening a gap shot to left) and proceeded to make short work of the opposing hitters.

The Defensive Specialist has waxed lyrical about the firepower contained within the Heat line up and in the 4th inning the bats got going. Allan De San Miguel drove a ball to the right centre gap that Dening appeared to have a bead on. Just as he closed on it, rightfielder David Kandilas ploughed into him causing the ball to rattle away and allowing De San Miguel to rumble into third. Kandilas was shaken up after the collision but remained in the game. Luke Hughes then hit a sac fly to right to plate De San Miguel, and Robbie Widlansky stroked a ball into left to keep the inning going. With Evan McArthur at the dish Widlansky broke for second as Welch picked over to first. Geriatric first baseman Brendan Kingman double pumped and threw to Michael Lysaught covering second. Widlansky appeared to block Lysaught’s view as the ball caromed off his larynx allowing Widlansky safe passage into second. Lysaught was briefly rattled but also remained in the game. McArthur then drove a ball into leftfield to push Widlansky in for the second run.

Schmidt had the ball on a string, surrendering only 1 hit through 6. After the rough 4th Welch managed to quell the Heat bats. He was relieved by Oxspring in the top of the 7th which struck the Defensive Specialist as an interesting move. On one hand manager Glenn Williams wants to keep the game close and which better guy to do so. On the other hand you’ve now burned your best pitcher for the remainder of the series in a losing contest.

The game wasn’t a losing contest for much longer as Dening scorched a 1 out double to right in the bottom of the 7th. After an Alex Johnson ground out, Kingman limped to the plate like Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series. On the first pitch he made like Gibson by smashing a fastball for a game tying 2 run blast to leftfield.

Game tied 2-2.

With Dae-Song Koo rolling it over in the Sydney pen, Oxpsring trotted out for the 9th inning after racking up 5 K’s in 2 innings of work. He started the 9th by punching out McArthur but Ronnie Welty poked a ground ball through the infield to right to put a runner on for the Heat. Matthew Kennelly then got radical on an inside fastball and murdered it to leftfield for a 2 run blast that put the Heat up 4-2.

Heat closer Brendan Wise was summoned from the pen to shut things down in the 9th. After a quick out he walked Dening but then induced a chopper to third that McArthur fed to Hughes who deftly turned it over to first with a hustling Dening on his hammer to end the game.

*The Defensive Specialist apologies for waffling less than he usually does but with game 2 fast approaching it seemed prudent to knock out the comprehensive review immediately after the game rather than trying to double up on Friday.

The Deep in the Hole player of the game could easily go to Daniel Schmidt who went 7 innings allowing only 2 runs on 3 hits while striking out 4 but for his 9th inning long ball heroics Matthew Kennelly gets the nod – congratulations!
Things are suddenly a little dicey for the Blue Sox with both of their aces spent and a series deficit in place. They’ll turn to either Craig Anderson or Wayne Lundgren to try and turn things around in game 2. Once again attention has to be turned to the stagnant Blue Sox offense that managed only 4 hits (2 by Dening) and never seemed to threaten.

For the Heat things are on the up and up. With a severely depleted starting rotation they’ll sent beanpole Trevor Caughey to the mound. Fans will remember that he shut the Blue Sox down in his last start. The offense will take heart that they pulled a W against arguably the two best pitchers in the league and will be raring to finish the series off on Friday night so that they can sample all that the Penrith night life has to offer before heading back to Perth and preparing for the Grand Final series.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I am the shark amongst the fishes.......

It’s not going to be easy to replicate the complex imagery and metaphors the Defensive Specialist conjured for the Blue Sox / Heat post over the past two days, especially since Melbourne and Adelaide don’t share the same level of vitriol that an east / west rivalry presents. When you couple this with the fact that the Defensive Specialist has seen the Bite play once and has never laid eyes on the Aces, trying to predict a winner becomes even tougher. Fortunately you’re not dealing with any mere mortal here at Deep in the Hole – when in doubt your old pal falls back on his trusted gut instinct.

On paper the result looks fairly straightforward – the Bite took 7 out of 8 from the Aces over the course of the season and play host to the Melbournians in the minor semi final. Home field advantage + regular season dominance = Adelaide win.

Ok, so leaving it at that would make for a fairly boring post.  Let the Defensive Specialist run through both line-ups and see which team wins the positional battle (Jaws /Adelaide or Maverick / Aces).


Import Brandon Bantz handles the tools of ignorance for the Bite, but despite a hot start his production has tailed off as the season’s progressed (including an 0-20 in mid January). Nevertheless Bantz still managed to bop 8 home runs while driving in 26. The 7 errors have to be a concern for Manager Tony Harris, especially when you consider that it’s not like the Bite staff are loaded with hard to handle pitchers. The return of Quincy Latimore and James McOwen allows Bantz to drop lower in the line up and alleviates some of the stress placed upon him.

The festive season may have been a little bigger than his manager would have liked because before the Christmas break Grant Karlsen was flirting with .400. Upon return to the diamond he suffered through a painful January (4-34 and 5 of his 7 strikeouts)) which dragged his average down almost 100 points. Despite his struggles Karlsen provides a solid lower order bat that puts the ball in play and can drive the ball out of the yard from time to time.
Edge: Tie

First Base

It was widely speculated that Justin Huber would take the ABL by storm in 2010 / 2011. Unfortunately things got off to a woefully sluggish start and he’s scuffled pretty badly all season. While he did hit 9 home runs and drive in 29 the Defensive Specialist is sure that he would have expected more.  Despite a down season, he still provides an imposing bat in the 4 hole and is definitely someone that opposing managers do not want to mess with.

Scott Gladstone appears to be the man at first base for the Bite and although not a prolific power bat he did manage to put up some tidy numbers – particularly in January when he hit .372.

Second Base

Last year the Defensive Specialist openly questioned second baseman Josh Cakebread’s value offensively as he posted anaemic numbers with the bat. The move to a grander stage has obviously agreed with him as his production has increased substantially with a .277 average and 17 runs scored in 21 games. Cakebread isn’t going to drive the ball out of the yard but his ability to get on base in the 9 hole makes the top of the line up more potent and his defence at second base has always been highly valued.

Matthew Lawman plays the role of punchless second baseman in this series with a disappointing .193 average on the season. Making matters worse he also tallied 12 errors on the season, which makes it tough to justify sending him out there. Manager Phil Dale will be hoping that he can either provide stellar D or get the bat going. Even better do both!

Third Base

Lanky lefty Stefan Welch was expected to be a prime time contributor for the Bite in 2010/ 2011 and while the 7 home runs and 25 RBI’s suggest that he played his part, the .201 batting average, .298 OBP and league leading 42 strikeouts paint a different picture. Manager Harris looks to have settled on him in the 2 hole which may be a smart move as it will likely present him with better stuff to hit as opposing pitchers work to avoid putting him on in front of McOwen and Latimore.

Josh Davies seems settled at third for the Aces and while he shared the lead league in errors (14) his bat played reasonably well. Hitting .307 he drove in 27 while scoring 28. An aversion to taking a free pass saw his OBP sit at .335 and his high strikeout tally (41) can end a big inning.


Much like Cakebread, the Defensive Specialist dogged Jeremy Cresswell fairly heavily last season from an offensive perspective. Being the big man that the Defensive Specialist is, now seems to be an appropriate time to acknowledge that Cresswell has been a revelation offensively this season. With McOwen being the big bat in the lineup, Cresswell’s resurgence at the plate allows Manager Harris to lead him off and use McOwen in the middle of the order. Cresswell led the league in runs scored, contributed 5 homeruns and drove in 23 while hitting .278. Defensively he was somewhat of a sieve at shortstop, leading the league in errors but if he continues to score runs at the rate he is, the miscues can be overlooked.
The Aces stocks at shortstop were enhanced with the return of James Beresford (Baseball America Article – also featuring Luke Hughes). Beresford slotted right into the leadoff position and has provided a spark by hitting .404 with 8 runs in 12 games).
Edge: Tie


Quincy Latimore blew the league up in the first month of the season but saw his production wane in January. You know you’re having a good season when you can hit .219 in January and still finish the season at .313. A late season hamstring strain saw the Q-tip miss some time and may lead to him appearing more at DH than in the field. If Latimore goes to DH, Ben Wigmore is thrust into the fray in left. Wigmore has always been a professional hitter and although his output was not as impressive as in years past, he is still a dangerous bat to have lower in the order. Defensively he is scary in leftfield and Manager Harris will hold his breath on balls hit out that way.
When the Aces Japanese contingent departed our fair shores, the hole left by Yoshiyuki Kamei in leftfield was substantial. Fortunately Manager Dale was able to recruit Paul Rutgers to fill the void. After a hot start Rutgers finished the regular season with a .311 average, 4 long balls and 17 RBI’s in 22 games.


Elliot Biddle has staked ownership of the centrefield position for Melbourne. Appearing in 17 games he has scored an impressive 16 runs while hitting .313

MVP candidate McOwen
The Bite have themselves a legitimate MVP candidate in centrefielder James McOwen who led the league in home runs while driving in 30 and scoring 29. McOwen’s en fuego January has forced his manager to move him from the lead off position to the 3-hole in order to capitalise on his production, which makes the Adelaide line-up even more damaging.

MVP candidate Russell

Tom Brice seems to have found his niche on rightfield for the Bite and it’s amazing what you can do when you find your happy place! A .314 clip with 7 homeruns, 26 RBI’s and a .439 OBP is just what you want from your right fielder.

If James McOwen is the Bites MVP candidate, Andrew Russell flies the flag for the Aces. Buoyed by a ridiculously hot December, Russell cranked out 46 hits in 2010 /2011 with 9 doubles and 7 bombs along with 27 RBI’s and 25 runs.

Designated Hitter

It looks like Latimore will take the majority of at bats here, but if he’s good to go health wise look for Harris to hide Wigmore’s glove and insert him here.

The Melbourne designated hitter role looks likely to be filled by left handed hitter Scott Wearne. The nuggetty infielder hit .270 on the season with 4 home runs and 25 runs.

Starting Pitching

The Defensive Specialist has discussed the Adelaide staff in this forum before and most would agree that it has been somewhat of a let down from pre season expectations. Red hot Brandon Maurer capped an outstanding January with a 1 hit shut out of Brisbane over 7 innings (the one hit came on the first batter of the game).  He’d have to be considered a sure thing in the Bite playoff rotation, which leaves Mark Brackman, Dushan Ruzic and Paul Mildren battling for the last 2 spots. Mildren has taken the ball every series and the veteran would surely be inserted into the playoff rotation based on his history and previous performance. His 2010/2011 season has been a let down with a 2- record and 4.58 ERA but he is a proven guy and wont be phased under playoff pressure. That leaves Dushan Ruzic and Mark Brackman to fight it out for the last start. Ruzoc went 5-2 with a 4.07 ERA while Brackman posted a 2-1 record with a 3.40 ERA.

Its not like the Aces don’t have much to choose from – after all they did wheel out 25 different arms to the mound this season. Tetsu Nishikawa has been handed the ball regularly towards the end of the season and you’d assume he’d get a start in the post season after going 2-0 with almost a K per inning. Lefty Adam Blackley led the team in innings pitched and managed a 3-3 record although his 5.31 ERA would have to disappoint him. Import Jeff Jamnik has taken the ball late in the season but his stuff has been cannon fodder as his 1-3 record and 8 ERA attests to. Greg Wilstshire is 4-0 for the Aces but he too has been rather expensive, giving up 22 earned runs in 34 innings and Shane Lindsay has made a couple of starts lately with limited success.


The Melbourne bullpen is a wasteland of bloated ERA’s and walk totals (which may have a lot to do with the fact that they play in a shoebox for half their games). Manager Dale really doesn’t have a go-to arm, especially with Adam Bright no longer available. If Wiltshire, Jamnik or Lindsay miss out on a start they’ll obviously feature heavily in the pen along with Nicholas Martin and the recently appearing Russ Spear.

The ageless Darren Fidge started the season in the rotation but his durability has proven to be an advantage out of the pen for Manager Harris. With a leftover starter available for relief duties the Adelaide relief corp is definitely strengthened and much deeper. The late season addition of Adrian Burnside and Tom Becker helps but the remainder of the arms down there have had less than stellar seasons.

With the Bite having the edge in 7 of the 11 categories (with 2 ties) it’s almost a no brainer to state that they’ll win this series. The Melbourne pitching is in such a state of flux that is hard for the Defensive Specialist to imagine that it can contain the potentially explosive Adelaide line up. If the Bite hurlers can contain the top of the Aces line up its hard to see the Aces being able to put one in the win column.

Of course with all of the Defensive Specialist’s predictions, take this one with a fairly large grain of salt!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

East Coast V West Coast (Continued)

For those of you to time poor to read part 1, the count currently sits at 3 Tupac’s, 0 Biggie Smalls and 2 Ties. On we go…..


For the Heat, professional hitter Robbie Widlansky has been a consistent force across the vast majority of the season. While the left-hander has shuffled across a number of positions (1B & DH), he seems to have a found a home in leftfield. While his bat has played as a true corner outfielder (extra bases and run production), scouting reports suggest that defence isn’t necessarily his first priority. Despite hating his baseball glove, Widlansky’s offence has more than carried the load, finishing second in runs scored (30) and first in doubles (15) while posting a .402 OBP.
As much as the Defensive Specialist would love to see it, there is next to no chance of Techno Tim Auty making an appearance for the Blue Sox in the finals series. In his place, Utter Club Nutter Trent Schmutter has been a surprise package with his .316 average and .396 OBP out of the 2-hole.


Mitch Dening surely spends countless hours in front of his bathroom mirror asking himself where things went wrong in 2010 / 2011. Last year he was an all-conquering middle of the order threat for the NSW Claxton Shield team and this year he’s hitting .201 with only 4 homeruns and 19 RBI’s. The Defensive Specialist would like to suggest that he’s struggling against lefties but a quick look at his splits shows that he struggling against anything that’s thrown over hand!

Being hotter than hellfire in January
The Heat’s centrefielder Ronnie Welty had his own share of troubles through November and December, hovering around the .200 mark with sporadic power and an inconsistent approach. A source informs the Defensive Specialist that Welty sat down with a clean sheet of paper and drew up a detailed list of New Year resolutions. On top of his list was “Hit the cover off the baseball” which is exactly what he did in January, reeling off 21 hits in 34 at bats including 5 homeruns, 3 doubles and a ridiculous 17 runs scored. Let that be a lesson to you people – “As it is written, so it shall be!” The January tear took Welty’s numbers to an impressive level with 10 homeruns, 30 runs and 24 RBI’s.


It seems like only yesterday that the Defensive Specialist was sitting at game 1 of the ABL season watching David Kandilas gun down a Multiculturalist base runner at third base on a line from rightfield. Kandilas had a solid season hitting out of the 9-hole, posting a .274 average with more walks than strikeouts. As mentioned his arm in rightfield is a true weapon and will have Heat manager flashing the stop sign at runners on hard hit balls to right.

Returning from the prestigious Arizona Fall League, Tim Kennelly took a little while to find his stroke but put together a solid January that featured 3/4 of his home runs and 2/3 of his RBI’s. Employing the rarely seen Mickey Tettleton batting stance Kennelly has settled into the lead off position for the Heat and has played rock solid defence in rightfield.

Designated Hitter

Alex Johnson appeared from parts unknown and would have to be the absolute favourite for Rookie of the Year if the entire player contingent wasn’t new and therefore all rookies. Johnson made a dent on the league from his first appearance and became a middle order mainstay for the Blue Sox, leading the team in RBI’s (26) and homeruns (7). Despite wearing the ugliest shoes in the league, Johnson has been a polished run producer for Manager Williams and will need to carry a large load in the playoffs.
The Heat seemed to have settled on a platoon at the DH position with Ryne Price getting AB’s against righties and Assistant General Manager Lachlan Dale threatening Knights job security if he doesn’t get the start against lefties. Price seems to have a knack for coming up with big knocks late in the game while Dale traded in his polo shirt and slacks towards the end of the season to play in 6 games and hit .412 with 7 RBI’s.

Starting Pitching

Welch playing the roll of Robin
The Blue Sox have a four-headed monster with each starter capable of playing the role of staff ace. Staff leader Chris Oxspring was simply dominant through the first 2 months of the season, carving up opposing lineups and averaging just over a strikeout per inning. January has been less friendly to the righty with a 0-2 record (with his worst outing yielding a no-decision) and 10 earned runs surrendered. After returning from elbow surgery, it is safe to assume t there may be an element of fatigue setting in.  Lefthander David Welch was playing the role of Robin to Oxspring’s Batman for the majority of the season but roles may have been reversed as Welch has statistically surpassed his pitching coach. Welch posted a 5-0 record with a 1.44 ERA while only walking 9 hitters in 62.1 innings.  Wayne Lundgren’s season has been a step back from what he achieved last year and his 4-4 record and 5.30 ERA would disappoint him. The tall righty was significantly more hittable in 2010/2011, which may reflect a down tick in pure stuff. Craig Anderson rounds out the starting pitching and its now officially ok to refer to him as crafty. The southpaw gets it done by going “slow, slower’ slowest” and used that approach to go 3-2. 2.23 ERA in 44.1 innings.

It’s at this point that a big question mark needs to be inserted for the Perth Heat. With the departure of a couple of arms, the Heat starting rotation has relied on imports from the local competition to get the job done. Daniel Schmidt has been the one constant going 6-3 with a 2.97 ERA while seeing his “stuff” improve as the season has progressed. With the playoffs consisting of only 3 games, Manager Brooke Knight can really use the ‘Johnny Allstaff” approach to filling out the remainder of his rotation. Warwick Saupold has been solid in his last 2 outings and ring-ins Trevor Caughey and Matt Zachary have made fantastic contributions when they’ve been available. Import Cole McCurry was not given a start in last weekend’s series which is an indication that he’s at his innings limit for the season.


Koo closing it out
At the back of the Blue Sox pen, Dae-Sung Koo has been everything that was advertised. The cagey lefty appeared in 18 games while posting 12 saves and producing a 1.00 ERA. Koo provides Manager Glenn Williams a lights out closer that locks down ball games. The Sydney pen has really not been stretched as the starters have gobbled up so many innings but quality arms like Matthew Williams and Rich Thompson provide a bridge to Koo. Vaughan Harris and Todd Gratton have both been serviceable in relief.

The Heat also have a dominant arm to finish games off in Brendan Wise who has 3 saves in 4 appearances without surrendering a run. The departures of Brett Jacobsen and Tyler Anderson has depleted the pen but rubber armed Liam Barron, Ben Grice and Cameron Lamb appear to be the go-to guys in middle relief. Grice has proven to be particularly effective against right-handed hitters with his funky side arm delivery and Frisbee slider. If McCurry is restricted in innings, he provides another quality arm out of the pen, albeit in limited doses.


Look, you all know the Defensive Specialist’s track record on the prediction front has been brutal, but by systematically working through each position and finding which team has the edge, things should be significantly easier and more accurate…. Yeah right.

The Heat have a fearsome offensive lineup that bangs 1 through 9 and seems to be hot at just the right time. With legitimate long ball threats in the heart of the line up, the Heat are capable of putting a beat down on any team. The big worry has to be the starting pitching which lacks a true “Ace” presenting a major concern in a 3 game series. Think about it - if you can role out a stud you’re almost guaranteed one victory. With that under your belt you can then throw everything and the kitchen sink at the opposition to get W number 2. The Heat lacks the lights out starter who can promise them that. After Schmidt the rest of the rotation has the look and feel of a kindergarden finger painting – a mismatch of colours and shapes and really smudged. The Defensive Specialist doesn’t even know for sure who’d get the ball in game 2 and the chances are it could be some bloke pulled directly out of the State League competition.

Sydney is in the exact opposite situation to Perth. Manager Williams knows he can send Oxspring and Welch to the mound with a rock solid chance at getting a win. He then has the luxury of choosing between Lundgren and Anderson to start game 3 and use the unlucky starter out of his pen if necessary. With Koo at the back end and some solid relievers he has a lock down staff at his disposal that proposes real challenges to opponents.

Unfortunately you have to score at least one more run than your opponent to win and the Blue Sox lineup isn’t always guaranteed to generate a large amount of run support. Alex Johnson has been the only real constant and he’ll need some assistance on the big stage and under the bright lights of playoff baseball. The biggest concern for Williams has to be his offense and who’ll provide the spark.

With both teams so diametrically opposed it makes things tough to call. In times like these wise heads fall back on experience and since the Defensive Specialist is the wisest head of them all lets go with the old adage “good pitching beats good hitting”.

Unfortunately Casey Stengel said, “Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice versa”.

Ok, the Defensive Specialist needs to lay them on the line. With Sydney at home and with Oxspring and Welch at the front of the rotation, the Blue Sox will win the series in 2 games.

Melbourne & Adelaide to follow before Thursday’s games.